The designers of BMW's fifth generation Seven series have silenced their critics, says Rob Scorah
BMW faced a tough challenge in reinventing its flagship saloon. But the results suggest it was equal to the task. It has created a car that answers criticism about the previous model's aesthetic, while lowering emissions and upping performance.
The new car looks a lot better, with a crisply defined waistline sweeping down from the rear to a more forceful snout. The twin "kidney" radiator grills have been enlarged and, together with the quad xenon headlights, create a front end that, on 18in alloys and fat tyres, adds to the car's muscular stance.
The interior's textures and materials have been carefully considered. As you shut the door, you notice a broad polished wooden door grip, rather than a drab plastic handle. And feel the contrast again with the metal and leather of the gear selector.
There's also an 80Gb hard disk, including digital road maps. For entertainment, there is 12Gb available for music; a DVD player; TV module and DAB radio. Rear passengers also have an iDrive control (the interface with the car's considerable technology) and there's a broadband internet facility, with the chrome wheel taking over as mouse. But, if you think BMW has gone soft, ignoring the sporting characteristics that made the company famous, you're wrong.
The car is available with a choice of twin-turbocharged, all-alloy engines, beginning with the amazingly frugal (almost 40mpg) 730d. This three-litre, straight six produces 245bhp, and more usefully, a lot of torque in its lower rev range. Finance managers will also be glad to know that the diesel Seven produces a class-leading CO2 emission of 192g per kilometre, so it will avoid the worst taxes. They'll be less happy with the 266g/km, but the 407bhp 4.4-litre V8 makes up for this with dazzling performance.
The entire range is all about performance on the road, incorporating a six-speed automatic transmission, three suspension and performance settings and four-wheel steering. Ride on most surfaces is excellent and selecting the different performance settings-standard, sport or super-sport-alters damper ratings, but also gear-shift points and hold patterns.
Naturally, the Seven makes light work of motorways (though the steering wheel lane-change vibration alarm seems superfluous). Those coming from brands, such as Mercedes or Bentley, might feel the Seven lacks a certain refinement (it's surprisingly noisy and could raise an eyebrow from the back seat).
But this car is a monumental essay in on-road techno-performance and multi-media management. It's just not the quietest.